Future Thought Leaders Program

The 2014 Future Thought Leaders Program is currently under review. Further updates will be provided at a later date.

In 2012, the HC Coombs Policy Forum, in partnership with the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, hosted the Future Thought Leaders Program, an experimental pilot project for outstanding public servants and researchers in the early stages of their careers. The concept underpinning the program is that good public policy is promoted by better engagement and integration of researchers and policy makers. The program was designed to allow early to mid-career public servants and researchers to explore the concepts, methods and values underpinning best-practice policymaking through the experiences of, and candid discussions with, leading senior public servants, policy advisors and scholars.

Features of the program

The program sought to identify a group of Future Thought Leaders in public policy: the public servants and researchers who will lead Australian public policy over the coming decades. It aimed to develop the skills and to build the relationships needed to facilitate closer engagement between the spheres of government and academia. The HC Coombs Policy Forum would then be able to draw on the Future Thought Leaders to inform and shape future activities.


The Program was offered to 16 young public policy professionals. For the experimental pilot, the participants comprised:

  • eight Commonwealth public servants serving in substantive APS6-EL2 positions**
  • three academics from the ANU with up to seven years’ postdoctoral experience or equivalent
  • five researchers from other Australian universities, research organisations or think tanks with up to seven years’ postdoctoral experience or equivalent

** The Australian Public Service Commission coordinated selection of participants drawn from the APS. The HC Coombs Policy Forum was responsible for selection of researcher participants. For further information, please see the researcher application process below.


The program was delivered as three two-and-a-half-day workshops held at the ANU over the course of three months. Participants were expected to attend all three sessions of the Program.

Each workshop was interactive with sessions structured around four themes in public policy: ideas, evidence, leadership and politics. Workshops involved a range of activities including short presentations and discussion sessions with key public policy thinkers from Australia and overseas, as well as more interactive ‘think tank’ sessions on Policy Research Program-related topics. The program was conducted under Chatham House Rule to enable a frank exchange of ideas. Under guidance from senior public policy leaders, participants also undertook a joint project addressing a long-term policy challenge facing Australia.

Researcher application process

A selection panel of public policy leaders, supported by the HC Coombs Policy Forum, was responsible for examining applications, short-listing candidates and making the final selection of participants. Applicants were to be interviewed as required at the discretion of the panel.

Download the application form.

Selection Criteria

Applicants must be early to mid-career researchers with up to seven years’ postdoctoral experience or equivalent. Although there were no age restrictions for the program, applicants were expected to have the majority of their contributions to Australian public policy still ahead of them. In selecting candidates for the program, factors considered by the panel included:

  • strong demonstration of and/or potential for leadership within Australian public policy
  • demonstrated capacity to collaborate well with others
  • evidence of strong analytical and creative ability
  • capacity to translate high-level principles or theory into practice
  • the applicant’s personal statement and curriculum vitae
  • ability to attend all program sessions.

Further information:

Questions related to the Future Thought Leaders Program can be directed to Katherine Daniell or to the Coombs Forum secretariat at coombs.forum@anu.edu.au

Updated:  30 May 2024/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team